Exploring Colombo’s backstreetsBack
Colombo is Sri Lanka’s chaotic and often overlooked capital. It is a city which can be confusingly contradictory. The bustling area of Slave Island, in particular, can be somewhat illogical and overwhelming to visitors and you could be forgiven for not wanting to brave it alone, but if you take the time to visit you’ll quickly discover that it is one of the most interesting areas in the capital. Named, literally, because of its association with African slaves who were housed in the area during Portuguese rule, this now bustling commercial thoroughfare overlooking the recently replenished Beira Lake was once surrounded by crocodile-filled canals that gave the impression of an island. The slaves were released long ago and the crocodiles were cleared out over time, but Slave Island is still awash with remnants of the past, with tradition seemingly preferred over development and landmarks of bygone eras lining almost every street. Walk through this historic district with your host, a distinguished conservationist and naval architect whose narrative will bring Slave Island’s captivating chronicles to life.
Start your walk in front of the Galle Face Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in Asia and the first hotel to be built in Sri Lanka. From there you will make your way into the heart of Slave Island, an area rich with ethnic diversity. Home to Moors, Malays, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists who live side by side, in Slave Island different religious edifices stand just meters away from one another, blending the many places of worship into one in the colorful and eclectic cityscape. You will visit some of the most historic mosques and churches in the area and learn about the stories that underpin Slave Island. Discover why there is a road affiliated with London’s famous Kew gardens, and meet the vendors who sell their wares out of buildings that haven’t changed in hundreds of years. Finish up at the Beira Lake, just next to Gangaramaya Temple, allowing you the option to explore one of Sri Lanka’s most famous temples after your walk.
About the Host
Your host is a young resident of Colombo with a passion for conservation and a strong interest in sustainability and eco-friendly practice. He studied naval architecture at Colombo’s maritime campus and he is heavily involved with Colombo’s Good Market which advocates sustainable and fair trade business. He also consults for the Biosfera foundation which provides sustainable design solutions in agriculture and construction. His background brings depth to his walk, with many questions regarding modern development vs conservation arising.